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Unformatted text preview: sual images. It’s as if anything
salient and attention-grabbing—almost by its very nature—encourages you to look at it more to process it further, thereby fulfilling at
least the first requirement of art. But the “attention-grabbing” component would be the same for the randomly distorted face and the
caricature, whereas only the latter will have an additional component added by the peak shift. These different “components” of the
aesthetic response will eventually be dissected more as we develop a
clearer understanding of the connections between the visual areas
and limbic structures and of the logic that drives them (the “laws” we
194 the artful brain
have been discussing). So a randomly distorted nude might excite
only the amygdala (“interest + pleasure”).
An analogy with IQ tests might be illuminating. Most people would
agree that it is ludicrous to measure something as multidimensional
and complex as human intelligence using a single scale such as IQ.
Yet it’s better than nothing if you are in a hurry: trying to recruit
sailors, for example. An individual with an IQ of 70 is unlikely to be
bright by any standard, and one of IQ 130 is unlikely to be stupid.
In a similar vein I would suggest that even though the SCRs can
provide only a very crude measure of aesthetic response, better a
crude measure than none. And it can be especially useful if combined with other measures such as brain imaging and single neuron
responses. For example, a caricature or a Rembrandt might activate
face cells in the fusiform more effectively than a realistic photo.
It may be helpful, also, to make a further distinction between
“aesthetic universals” versus “art”—which is in some ways a more
loaded term. Aesthetic universals would include so-called design, but
wouldn’t include pickled cows.
7. It isn’t clear what “kitsch” is, but unless we tackle this we cannot really claim to have completely understood art. After all, kitsch
art also sometimes deploys the same “laws” I am talking about—e.g.,
grouping or peak shifts. So one way of finding out what neural connections are involved in “mature aesthetic appreciation” would be to
do brain imaging experiments in which you subtract the subject’s reaction to kitsch from her reaction to high art.
One possibility is that the difference is entirely arbitrary and idiosyncratic, so one man’s high art might be another’s kitsch. This
seems unlikely, since we all know that you can evolve from appreciating kitsch to appreciating the genuine thing, but you can’t slide backwards. I would suggest instead that kitsch involves merely going
195 the internet and the university
through the motions of applying the laws we have talked about, without a genuine understanding of them. The result is “pseudo art” of
the kind found in hotel lobbies in North America.
As an analogy we can compare kitsch to junk food. A strong solution of sugar elicits a gustatory jolt, as every child knows,...
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- Summer '09